My grandfather was building superintendent of Philadelphia’s Franklin Science Museum. He worked a six-day week, so every Saturday—from the ages of seven to sixteen—I hopped into his gray Chrysler and went to what he called “the place” (why, I’ll never know).
The museum’s tag line was, “Science is Fun,” and that’s exactly what these Saturday holidays were. In the Hall of Chemistry, you pushed a button and peered into a glass enclosure where oxygen and hydrogen were mixed—and with a gentle popping sound, a few drops of water appeared.
A kid (or grownup) could learn physics by sitting on a revolving stool while holding two hinged handles, which expanded and pulled his or her arms outward by centrifugal force.
In the aviation room, you looked up at the airplane that Amelia Earhart flew across the Atlantic, sat in the open cockpit of an ancient canvas-covered biplane, and got the feel of flying at the controls of a WWII Link trainer.
The Fels Planetarium contained a giant dumbbell-shaped instrument studded with lenses, which re-created the night skies of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. As you watched, an astronomer wove legends of the universe and named the stars within projected pictures of a bull, a lion, and a hunter with his arm upraised.
You entered through the front door, which opened on the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial: a twenty-foot marble statue of Ben seated in an armchair, greeting visitors with a kind of paternal placidity. Standing in this sixty-foot domed rotunda, I literally grew up in the shadow of the man, which is why he became my mentor and role model.
–F. Marshall Bauer
Bio: Marshall Bauer has been writing for most of his life. He began as an advertising copywriter, then writer/producer of computerized training programs and coauthor of Fearless Flying. His current book is Marblehead’s Pygmalion.